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If I have a strongly held conviction that it is always important to use the most cost-effective tool to solve a given problem, and I know a list of certain tools that represent deal-breakers to me because my experience has shown me that they are never remotely close to cost-effective, is it reasonable to list these things on a resume under a heading like "Looking to Avoid..."?

An example is cubicles. I don't want to get drawn into a debate about cubicles since it's not the point of this question, but as an example I believe there is overwhelming quantitative evidence to suggest that even in the most expensive, dense urban areas, it is more cost effective to provide an individual private office to each programmer or knowledge worker in a company. I would be willing to compromise a little and have a shared office, but I know that the ambient noise, lack of privacy, lack of lighting control, etc., in a cubicle would be untenable for me (I've worked in cubicles before and I will not do it again). I will not work in a cubicle even if I find all other job properties to be excellent.

My goal is to allow employers who have a cubicle culture to weed me out, thus saving everyone time.

More generally, in cases where a tool or work environment property is unacceptable to me, and a company is unwilling to change it, I'd like them to be able to reject me for that reason earlier in the process.

But at the same time, I want to convey that these opinions are held for pragmatic, data-driven reasons of productivity and bottom-line getting-the-job-done results. They are not mere preferences but rather informed opinions about what unacceptable attempted solutions look like. This is important for the other set of companies that use tools I do find acceptable -- so that they understand I still want to roll up my sleeves and get a job done, I just have data-driven convictions about the most cost-effective way to do it, and that as long as they use reasonable principles to choose their tools in the future, I'm not going to suddenly stop getting the job done.

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    A interesting a good question. If you have no intent in accepting a job with X, then there is no point wasting anyones time with a interview there. On the other hand, you may come across as demanding even at places that don't have X. I suspect this might be better adresses in a cover letter which can be less formal "I was unable to find information on whether your company uses X. If it does so, you need not consider my application further." etc. I look forward to seeing what the expert answer is to this – Lyndon White Oct 18 '14 at 1:52
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    Are you applying for companies? In that case you should probably do the research and find whether the company uses cubicles and don't apply to those companies. Having the sections in your resume when you apply to a company without cubicles could be seen as a lack of research on your part. – Christian Oct 18 '14 at 2:26
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    In my case, companies I join have a way of starting out great then adopting things from my "looking to avoid" list as they grow (or get bought, change management, etc). Examples: "We do 99% of our work in-house in our private/shared offices" becomes "Most of our people will now be working at client sites in soul-crushing, noisy cube farms" 6 months after you start the job. – James Adam Oct 18 '14 at 18:35
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    @EMS - There's an old saying, "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." I applaud your analytic analysis, but there are companies buried so deep in a tech stack the even with the high fees no one is going to make the effort to retool when projects are already behind. – user8365 Oct 19 '14 at 13:13
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    As a matter of interest, how many companies have you found that pass you criteria? This sounds like no company that I have ever worked in (in 25+ years). – dave Oct 19 '14 at 22:21
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Is it OK to have a “Looking to Avoid” section on a resume?

Although it's your resume, and you can do anything you like with it, I think this is a poor approach. Remember, you will be severely narrowing down the list of potential employers. Adding this section is not the approach I'd take.

Employers with cubicles and unacceptable tools will of course avoid you. Clearly, that is what you are seeking with this approach. But many others will avoid you as well - even those with no cubicles and only the most acceptable tools and practices.

As I read your question, it screams "high maintenance".

I suspect many otherwise acceptable employers will avoid you because a "looking to avoid" section will tell them "this person won't be happy anywhere". They'll think to themselves "Well sure, I don't have any cubicles, and I don't have tool X or process Y. But what else will this person suddenly deem unacceptable?" If you are unwilling to compromise on your "Avoid" list, what other demands will you make?

When I interview people, one of the priority decisions is to get a sense of how this person will fit in. It's hard to fit high maintenance people in. There's only so much I can modify to suit the needs of one individual. I have to think of the entire team. Right or wrong, highly-qualified or not, I tend to reject high maintenance individuals from consideration. I'd worry that will happen to you too when it doesn't have to be this way.

You could take the approach you have chosen, but I think there's a better way. It would be far better for you to work with a reputable recruiter that you trust, who can match you up with positions that meet all of your standards without you having to advertise your laundry list of acceptable versus unacceptable in your resume. Be very honest with the agent, making sure he/she understands all of your "must avoid" issues.

If you don't want to work with a headhunter, then I'd suggest leaving your "Avoid" list off of your resume, and weeding out the unacceptable companies the old fashioned way - during the phone screen or initial interview. Just ask about items on your "Avoid" list. If you are looking around, see if they have cubicles. If so, don't continue on with the interview process. It may cost you a fair bit of time in an interview, but a good job is worth a bit of your effort.

We all have an internal "I'd never work at a company that..." list (for me, I'd never work at a company that requires me to travel on a regular basis). But advertising that list on a resume isn't usually the best solution.

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    +1 for the recruiter idea. That is an excellent way to have a filter on these things without coming off as demanding or overbearing. I guess then the trouble is how to find a trustworthy recruiter. – ely Oct 18 '14 at 18:42
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    +1 for the internal "avoid list". I've got some things I consider deal-breakers, I can't say 100% that I would't compromise for the right opportunity. – Ben Gale Oct 18 '14 at 21:35
  • Perhaps a better version of this question is how to conduct a job search that targets a very, very specialized subset of the job market (the subset adhering to the practices I think are best and also looking to hire people who do what I do). My question belies one approach: continue applying everywhere as normal, but just appear extremely picky, high-maintenance, and weird on the resume so that everyone will reject you except for those rare equally weird and equally pedantic companies -- which are the ones I might actually want to work for. – ely Oct 18 '14 at 21:36
  • If you can find a recruiter well-connected to that special job subset, it's great. But what do you do if it's just you versus the world? If you're scouring LinkedIn and other career sites. Most standard jobs expect people to slot in and just accept the tools already being used -- I would be a terrible fit at a job like that. But it's not like you can search for that property on a job forum. It's exceedingly hard to find jobs like that. I believe I am actually qualified to have a fighting chance at winning them, but I seem unable to even locate them. – ely Oct 18 '14 at 21:38
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    I'd skip the first few sentences, we all know I can type gibberish in my resume and call it a resume. The point is obviously "should you?" or "are there bad consequences?" and it's much better to open the answer with "it's almost certainly a bad idea" then explain why. – user1084 Nov 2 '14 at 14:48
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I think it's excellent that you have a list like this in your head. You may not be right about the costs and benefits of cubicles, or a particular operating system, or any other tool, but you know what you want and that's great. It will give you a great source of questions in your interviews, and if you ask a company why they use something you have dismissed, you may learn a lot about them, including why they wouldn't be a good fit for you.

However I think it's a very bad idea to put it on your resume. It says a great deal about your attitude and approach to work, not all of it good, and without you there to temper that with your intelligence and general desirability. My people don't have cubicles, and if someone's resume or cover letter said "I don't want to work in a place that has cubicles" I might react by feeling "ah, I have a good chance with this candidate, great."

But if that cover letter went on to more specific tools that you refuse to use -- not because you don't like them but because you know what's best for my company and what is cost effective -- then I might switch to more of a "who do you think you are?" mindset. Your disclaimer, that these are not preferences but that you know better than I do how to make my company money by choosing specific tools, makes this worse, not better. This isn't even about experience, or whether it's your job to choose tools rather than use them, or how much you know about the rest of what a company does (some tools that frontline workers hate produce great reports for management, some expensive tools that seem no better than the free ones to you have features used by other people in the company you're ignoring) it's about your desire to take a choice that is very complicated and situation-dependent, and just make it black and white. You don't know my company. You don't prepare the tax returns. You don't know our customers. You don't know what we have to provide. But you're sure we're using the wrong tool if we're using X. If I read that, then even if I don't use X I don't want to hire the person who is so sure of their ability to handle this better than me. We would just butt heads the whole time, it's not worth it.

So have a list, and ask intelligent questions about it in the interview. Not "do you use X?" "Yes we do." "Ok, thanks for your time, I could never work here." But "what do you use for [whatever]?" "We use X." "Oh, I looked into that, but my firm chose Y. Can you tell me a little about how X is more appropriate for this firm?" If the answer you get is "none of your business" or "it makes it easy for us to crush the very souls of our workers" then you can stick with your conclusion that you don't want to work here. But they might surprise you.

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    The other tough thing is that implementing your advice is very costly, in terms of my time and getting my hopes dashed late in the process. An example that typifies my experience: someone gave me a very interesting take home data analysis interview quiz. I did very well on it and so they wanted to bring me in for 5 hours, but I had not been able to ask a single question about the position yet. I had to negotiate with them to even get them to let me first do a phone call to ask about the job, and the phone call revealed everything I didn't want to work with. How can I save such effort and time? – ely Oct 18 '14 at 18:37
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    As in Paul Graham's "Great Hackers," -- the question of "whether it's your job to choose tools" is a complete farce. Part of the reason you hire a software eng. in the first place is that they are able to see your business problems in extremely fine-grained detail, and have great control over the minutiae details to such an extent that they can write programs around them. Taking someone with this propensity and skill set in one area (your business problems) and asking them to "switch it off" in another (controlling the details of their tools) is as cruel as it is inefficient and money-wasting. – ely Oct 18 '14 at 18:48
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    You're welcome to your opinion. But if I ran a farm and you insisted on choosing the tractor brand for us all, or using an incompatible brand for yourself, I would tell you to run your own farm. What is your boss even for if not seeing the big picture? And what are the chances an outsider already knows the situation better? More likely there are factors in play you don't know yet. In my business, awareness of multiple business issues, and tradeoffs, is a vital skill, and "I won't use X and neither should you" does not demonstrate it. – Kate Gregory Oct 19 '14 at 11:11
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    "If you hired a tractor expert and then said those things, your farm would be one that tractor experts should be happy to be rejected from." -- and if I hired a tractor expert to prepare a report on the best tractors to use then that would be fine, but if I just want someone to dig a hole using the digger attachment on the tractors I've already purchased and a tractor expert accepts the job then picks holes in my choice of tractor instead of getting on with digging the hole then I'm going to be annoyed. Even if they're right about my choice of tractor being poor. – Rob Moir Nov 2 '14 at 16:29
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    @RobM and all the more so if the things they value in tractors aren't important to me and they are unaware of the things farm managers use tractors for. Many devs have no clue what reports those above them need, for example, or what regulatory requirements they must meet. Life is rarely as simple as "that moron has chosen the wrong tool." – Kate Gregory Nov 2 '14 at 16:34
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Every now and again - namely, whenever i want to procrastinate - i head over here and try and find the oddest question.

Today, this is probably going to be the oddest question I find.

To summerise my answer:

  1. You should not put this on your CV if you want a job anywhere
  2. Your reasons for your preferences are unconvincing from a "get the job done" POV
  3. you are in the wrong industry

I have no idea why you don't like cubicles for "data driven reasons" - but I'll tell you right now that there is no good way to explain that to anybody at all without sounding extremely kooky. No CV should have a "looking to avoid", because it is uncommon and difficult and employers want accommodating and easy. They might not even be able to legally say that, but they'll act on it just the same.

You don't want to engage in debate over this list, and that's reasonable, although I cannot help but strongly advise you that if the only reason is "data driven" and not personal preference from, say, an acoustic or health related issue, then you should just give up on this particular crusade. You mention you tried cubicles once (once!) before and didn't like it, but your last paragraph stresses this data-driven stuff, so I'm assuming your prejudice is is for these "data driven" reasons. What about open plan offices with desks?

Honestly, I don't think you should actually be doing programming, but rather marketing yourself as some sort of "worker efficiency" guy, because you seem to be much more passionate about worker efficiency than anything else ("I will not work in a cubicle even if I find all other job properties to be excellent"). If you're going to do something for the rest of your life, you might as well be passionate about it!

As a penultimate thought, you might find it simpler to complete the interview process, get the offer in hand, and then ask if you can be put in an office, although if I were you I would offer a reason (like personal preference for acoustic, or health, or mental focus reasons) that was not "data driven". Companies are often happy to do reasonable things for the right person, but the company has to be sure you are the right person first.

Finally, you might want to ask yourself if, in the scenario above with all your coworkers being in cubicles and you in an office, if you would be happy there. After all, from a "data driven" POV the company is still terrible, it is just you are better off. Is that ok, or are you the modern day office-worker Mahatma-Luther-Teresa, fighting for everyone?

  • On the cubicle point: programmer productivity has been documented to increase so much when programmers are not in a cubicle that it more than offsets the cost of giving the offices. A manager who looks at cubicles and says, "those are cheaper and we can get the job done" is literally wasting money, because you can get the job done better with offices to such an extent that the additional productivity is worth more money than what the offices cost. No one wants a job where the employer blatantly signals that productivity is not valuable, which is precisely what cubicles signal. – ely Oct 19 '14 at 13:22
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    You seem very judgemental too. Almost bordering on abuse to claim that I am in the wrong field, or that I should not be a programmer. I love programming. It is because I love programming that I am passionate about working in an environment that actually values programmer productivity. – ely Oct 19 '14 at 13:24
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    hm. your last point - if you love programming, you would presumably want the best challenges & the best programming tools (say, language, IDE, debugging or whatever programming-you-do tools). But passion about "programmer productivity", from a group POV, this has little to do with loving coding. In fact, in your answer you mention "knowledge workers", which are not just programmers, again implying that you love "worker productivity" and not "pure programming". I'm not, of course, saying you are a bad programer or that you don't love it. Just that maybe you should consider what you do love! – bharal Oct 19 '14 at 13:33
  • I see, that clarification is a good one. You're right that I do enjoy thinking about company policy, but much differently than you are thinking. I think more along the lines of Hansonian near/far theory and primate tribal politics. I'm very interested in what makes for functional, healthy, human-affirming software teams, and I'm even more interested in how to write clearly about workplace politics and bureaucracy, to demask the veneer of professionalism that glazes over dehumanizing aspects of modern working environments. – ely Oct 19 '14 at 13:40
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    nobody will listen to a programmer's POV about non-programming things, just as nobody listen's to a investment banker about programming things. You should look into management consulting ~ you won't ever use your programming skills, true, but you will get to look at why projects were canceled, business units dissolved, C-level executive fired, consultant teams brought in, etc. – bharal Oct 19 '14 at 14:52
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I agree that certain toolsets have played into my decision to take a job at a company, but if I saw a resume with an avoidance category I would probably pass that candidate up regardless. People who have the audaciousness to think they know better about why companies make the choices they do are just generally more difficult to work with I found. They cause conflict wherever they go and ultimately make political enemies where I worked hard to get a nice set of compromises with other teams and people that can make any progress at all very difficult.

Don't add this.

  • But what if I feel that a manager who looks at it and thinks something at all about the "audaciousness" of it is totally worth avoiding, and would thus welcome that rejection? In other words, I want a manager who expects subordinates to use their own critical judgement to form opinions about tools, and actively wants to hire people with good taste, rather than with willingness to just be a cog in a given environment. – ely Oct 19 '14 at 13:32
  • @EMS I would say that if that manager wanted everybody on his team to have the same vociferous audacious speak their mind at all times attitude then he really just wants a bunch of cogs in a machine that thinks just like him. A good manager tries to build a team with a diverse set of opinions and personalities because that is what ultimately spawns innovation. Not hatred of IBM product suites. (Although I do despise IBM product suites to go on record) :) – maple_shaft Oct 19 '14 at 22:25
  • Your comment doesn't seem related to me. I think the question is: "What if a manager responds to someone's diverse opinion by thinking 'who do they think they are' and attaching 'audaciousness' to their opinion?" You suggest managers should hire for diverse opinions -- and I completely agree, that's not what is at issue anywhere in this question. I'm more talking about managers who see any whiff of disagreement with their current stack as a threat or an arrogant presumption. Those folks are avoidance-worthy. – ely Oct 20 '14 at 1:12
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    @EMS from my experience this often results in constant arguments inside the team because a certain person has a problem with EVERYTHING or almost everything. I sat in a room with a person who had a problem with the light, the temperature, the window, my telephone ring, the noise from test lab, the chosen language of coding, the smell in the kitchen... everybody were trying to make her happy and she wasn't even very good at her job! We shared an office for ~18 months and she drove me nuts! Opinions are important, be careful not to be the person who's all about opinions. – Sigal Shaharabani Nov 3 '14 at 11:34
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    I think it is extremely reasonable for a person to have a problem with lighting, noise, smell, etc. They can also have useful opinions about why a language choice or tool choice is bad -- and if you hired that person because she is talented, you would be wasting money to fail to take the complaints seriously. It also sounds like the person might have been suffering from misophonia (or variants for other senses), which is not something she could help. You can't "just deal with it" when you have misophonia. – ely Nov 3 '14 at 14:31
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I've read through the other answers and your various responses to the questions.

I would look to put a more positive spin on what you are saying. You are saying that you have deeply held values: decisions should be made based on evidence and maximizing value is more important than minimizing cost. Your proposed "looking to avoid" section is really just a list of "symptoms" you've come up with that you associate with companies that do not hold these values as strongly as you do. As others have mentioned, this can easily give the impression that there are various other unexpected things that could come up after hiring you that could be a dealbreaker. Instead, you could list these values on your resume as very important to you. This would stand out positively for companies that share the values while avoiding some of the negative connotations of the avoid list.

I would strongly suggest focusing on three possible solutions to the problem:

  • Start your own software development company, possibly a consulting firm, where you have complete control over the environment and toolchain.
  • Focus on smaller companies that share your same values. Sharing your same values means there is a greater likelihood you can win them over to your view of the world if you have the evidence to back it up. Small means that you don't have to convince too many people and there is a greater chance that most will be like-minded.
  • Focus on opportunities where you can work remotely and commit only to specific deliverables. This is similar to option 1 but you may still be a bonafide employee while maintaining control over the toolchain.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Nov 3 '14 at 16:15
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Obviously this question is well answered, but I think these points are important:

  1. There is a point in engaging with any prospective employer, where you need be completely interested until they give you an offer. Then sort out whether you're not interested when there's a $$ offer on a table they may be willing to increase to $$$$$. My rule was to do my thinking and deciding offline, and only ask questions while seeming as excited as possible when on the phone or in interview with the employer.
  2. People tend to really, really overestimate how important their preferences are. I have done this exercise with friends who say something like, "But I hate maintaining C code," and when I throw out a hypothetical amazing company with a great culture and high salary where it's in C - and dial the salary up until they feel compelled to consider it - they start saying things like "Well C is really low level and I've always been more interested in compilers and OSes and stuff." This effect is real and important, and I am currently in a job with a great employer who I at first dismissed completely on the grounds that "I really didn't want to work at an X company." Turns out I'm pretty okay with that.
  3. I do find it odd that you're sending your resume out to people who you haven't bothered to research whether they have X. My above advice applies more to the "at least a little genuine interest" (even if they have X!) phase. But this is covered well in your accepted answer.

Here is the requisite classic article on negotiations for professionals who hate negotiation. It is required reading.

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Putting things you don't like on your resume is pretty unconventional. It's going to attract attention and initial screeners (HR) may just remove it right away. If someone is willing to go this far, it just sounds like you're not flexible enough to work in some places.

I'm a pretty flexible person. When I've managed others, I was open to their ideas and allowed them to use the tools and techniques they thought worked best. There is a point, that for whatever reason, I have to make a decision that they don't like, I'd appreciate the same courtesy I gave them and go with my decision. Nothing and no one is perfect. There are factors to consider that go beyond costs. As a programmer, you constantly have to work with unchanging constraints.

I'd suggest finding a way to put in your resume that you are willing to offer input and suggestions, but when decisions are made, you're willing to comply. Again, this is not an all or nothing situation. You have to pick and choose your battles. Very few managers can put up a fight on every single little decision make. Eventually, they'll just shut you down.

Edit: Instead of putting a list of things you don't want in a job, consider having a paragraph in a cover letter describing the type of job you do want. When dealing with a recruiter, be upfront about the things you want to avoid. They don't want to waste their time either trying to place you in a job you would never accept.

  • I think there is some misrepresentation going on. I'm not talking about fighting someone on every battle. But I would say as a minimum I won't respect a decision to put programmers in cubicles, to have a Windows-only working environment, to use a version control system other than modern distributed version control, and I'll also generally have opinions about high-level vs. low-level languages (e.g. if you think you need to write the whole codebase in C++, you're just wrong). I'm open to hearing about legitimate reasons, but I'm never open to "just dealing with" bad reasons. – ely Oct 19 '14 at 13:30
  • Those are all valid preferences. Putting them in the resume, as @JeffO said, is likely to get the resume chucked out before anyone who can hire you will ever see it. Hold these questions for the interview phase. But I think you're cutting off 90% of the jobs you would actually enjoy if you were willing to accept that good enough is good enough, along with some jobs you wouldn't. And most managers are going to respond with "It's a poor workman that blames the tools." – keshlam Nov 2 '14 at 14:35
  • Having said that: If this really is that critical to you, and you're willing to pass up many good jobs in order to find the one perfect job... well, there's certainly a place for artists in our field too. Unfortunately most artists starve, or support themselves via some other job. – keshlam Nov 2 '14 at 14:38

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